Arizona school board member questions whether district really involves parents in transgender student plans

The largest school district in Arizona recently updated guidelines and issued a “support checklist” for transgender students, but at least one board member says the policies could keep parents…

The largest school district in Arizona recently updated guidelines and issued a “support checklist” for transgender students, but at least one board member says the policies could keep parents in the dark about their own children.

Mesa Public Schools’ (MPS) guidelines, created in 2015, specify that “transgender and gender nonconforming” students are permitted to dress according to their gender identity and use facilities such as bathroom and locker rooms accordingly. Students are also said to have “the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that correspond to the student’s gender identity.”

The guidelines are also now accompanied by a new document called a “support checklist,” ostensibly “designed to work with families and students.” It is meant to allow the student or parent to instruct the school about preferences for a trans-identifying student.

The support plan seeks responses to the following:

  • Is a student/parent/guardian requesting a name change in Synergy (the school’s online system)? 
  • How public or private will the student’s transgender or gender nonconforming status be? (Possible selections follow: Open to all adults and peers School leadership/administration; District staff; Teachers and/or other school staff; Student will not be openly “out”, but some students are aware of the student’s gender identification; Other). 
  • Areas where alternative arrangements may need to be considered (Possible selections follow: restroom, locker room/PE, field trips, overnight trips, gendered activities and other co-/extracurricular activities).

The only action requiring the notification of a parent, according to the guidelines, is if a student asks for a name change in Synergy, the school’s official online system. Moreover, the most substantial change to the guidelines was the removal of another line about parental notification, according to America First Legal.

“The only substantive change @mpsaz made was to REMOVE the only place in the trans policy that mentions parental notification,” the legal group tweeted, along with a screenshot showing the differences.

However, school administrators seem quick to deny that parents aren’t involved, even in the support plans, despite evidence to the contrary.

School Board Member Rachel Walden notes the checklist doesn’t assure “parents will be brought in,” and she tells The Lion she’s heard from parents who say they haven’t been informed when their students are on a support plan.

“I heard a story from a teacher at Salk [Elementary] who said a 6th grade girl was using the boys bathroom and was called pronouns and her mom didn’t know. The principal has since denied this,” Walden said. 

She also spoke of another parent who told her a friend did not know her daughter was on a support plan and learned about it when the daughter’s preferred name appeared on an orchestra program. At that time a district certified staff member told her there are students on plans with no parental involvement.  

However, MPS Associate Superintendent Holly Williams tells The Lion parents are involved. 

“Parents are involved in this support checklist because they are the ones most often contacting schools asking for support for their student,” she said. 

In instances of students feeling unsafe with their parents or guardians knowing, the school district uses mandatory reporting guidelines to navigate those situations, according to Williams. 

These reporting guidelines recommend reporting “child and vulnerable adult” abuse, neglect, and mental/emotional issues to police or the Arizona Department of Child Services. 

On Twitter, Walden also quoted a superintendent’s denial that parents are unaware of their children’s participation in such support plans: 

“Superintendent Fourlis said: ‘I hear a concern that students are placed on Transgender Support Plans without parent notification. That is not the case.’ 

“Then stop ignoring requests to put these assurances into writing,” Walden demanded.